Saturday, June 22, 2002

Crisis: Texas in "Gridlock?"

Transportation focus of plans

Alternative travel modes are touted

June 21, 2002

Bob Richter Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2002

Texas won't successfully move into the future on roads and highways, but must adopt other modes of transportation to move people and products, state lawmakers were told Thursday.

"We must be more innovative," former Texas Transportation Commission Chairman David Laney told the Senate State Affairs Committee.

He called traffic gridlock in Texas cities "a permanent condition" that "threatens our state's principal urban economies."

Laney, a Dallas lawyer who last month was appointed to the Amtrak board by President Bush, acknowledged the border area's well-documented bad roads and bad infrastructure are "unique" and that his advice "is not intended to disregard their needs."

But his pitch was clearly to direct transportation planning and funding to larger urban areas, primarily Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.

Highways in those cities have reached capacity, he said, adding that by 2025 60 percent of the state's population will live in those urban centers.

"We're doing the entire state a disservice by not adequately investing in our urban transportation systems," Laney said.

Wendell Cox, a name familiar to some San Antonians for his opposition to light rail in the Alamo City in 2000, however, took issue with Laney.

Smaller cities, such as Laredo and Corpus Christi, will gain 10 million people cumulatively by 2025, Cox said. He said planners should turn to toll roads and user fees to serve big cities "so that people in Van Horn and Sweetwater don't think all their money is going to Dallas or Houston."

And, Cox said, freight rail will get large trucks off the highways, noting that one truck causes as much wear and tear on highways as four cars.

Several witnesses praised Gov. Rick Perry's proposed Trans Texas Corridor plan, a $175 billion public-private plan which would place highways, rail lines and underground conduits for utilities, petrochemicals and communications in six super corridors linking far-flung parts of Texas .

Others backed passenger rail, such as Dallas' DART, as a means of getting people out of cars to lesson gridlock and improve air quality.

Sen. Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi, said that in the wake of the terror attacks last September, it's vital to be able to move troops from inland military posts such as Fort Hood to seaports on the Gulf Coast.

And Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Dallas, who chaired the hearings here Thursday, called the transportation woes in Texas a "crisis," and said lawmakers and policymakers need "to not only focus on highways."

Sen. Kenneth Armbrister, D-Victoria, had a contrary view.

"Texans still like pickup trucks," he said, adding that calls for alternate forms of transportation amount to a "build it and they will come" theory.

The political reality, he said, is "what gets support is what people want."

© 2002 San Antonio Express-News: